Statement of Work Now in Progress and Suggestions as to Data Which Might be Supplied by Other Investigators
DR. WILLIAM I. THOMAS.—I am interested in an operation of a kind that is at the other extreme from most of these items, namely, a study of behavior in large cultural groups. I want to make a study of behavior problems, especially the child and crime, and the psychiatric situation, the emotional situations, in the Scandinavian population, perhaps concentrating on Sweden and at the same time, if possible, a similar study of the Italians.
I think there is nothing more important or quite so important as the study of the young child by these techniques that are so informative. I have an idea that children are born more unlike one another than we assume and are standardized in infancy more than we assume; that the operations at present of most persons like Dr. Healy in changing behavior trends are very discouraging; that certain mass influences have to be looked to. Some persons have thought of the school, others of the reconstitution of the family, and of the boys club.
Apparently the process of evolution is so rapid that if you were able to persuade a certain number of deviates to conform (the stream of deviation is broadening), it would be like stopping a number of girls from smoking cigarettes where many more other girls are beginning to smoke cigarettes.
There are possibilities of influencing whole groups towards certain conformities, for instance, fashions, but the influences underlying fashions are very obscure. We don't know much about them. There are formative influences, unifying influences, in loose association groups and in gangs.
But I distrust the finality of the assumption that behavior is structuralized exclusively on the infantile level, and I suppose I should not meet any disagreement on that point, and while the infantile period is very properly very heavily weighted now, I think it is disproportionately weighted at the moment; that is, there should be studies of group influences.
We know that certain enthusiasms can be engendered, like the religious, but that is not now a going concern; that is, magic has played out and we can't use that, nor can we use the community as it was used at a certain time. But in certain crises, like war, you find united attitudes are created, for example, through the press; and it seems to me that the possibilities of changing structure are considerable, especially around adolescence.
We have, in fact, a system, difficult to explain, by which behavior of populations at all age levels can be restructuralized to a certain extent. We see its operation in politics, in gangs, in interest-groups, etc., where certain mass sentiments, opinions and action patterns are generated by conversation and agitation.
Races and nationalities also exhibit different and characteristic attitudes and values, and consequently different behavior reactions, according to different historical experiences. A certain Scotland Yard man, I believe it was, has said that the reason they detect more crime over there is that the people want it detected and that we, in general, don't want it detected here.
Dr. Plant has just outlined also the study of behavior in different local areas of the same general culture, and while Dr. Burgess didn't emphasize it particularly, the study that he and Shaw and others have been concerned with, shows that in certain city areas so per cent of the boys, and in some cases nearly all the boys, are in the juvenile court every eighteen months. Without denying the importance of body chemistry, the endocrine system and nervous affections, it appears that determinants of mass behavior are predominantly sociological rather than hereditary—more dependent on life experiences than on germ plasm.
The study of Burgess, to which I refer, has partially defined a situation, showing that within given cultural areas or regions you have a high incidence of delinquency and the further task is to analyze the lives of all of the delinquents and all of the non-delinquents in those regions from all available standpoints.
Some years ago, before any of the material we are discussing here today had been developed, practically before we had our standpoint as it is today, I undertook a study of a Slavic group with reference to the effect of the home behavior patterns upon their adjustment or maladjustment in this country. It was largely from the standpoint of immigration. It was only partially organized and would not correspond at all to what I should wish to see done now, but we found that the historical situation had produced certain attitudes or tendencies to act, and certain misapprehensions of what American morals were, for example, the bandit type was conceived as a normal type. And for certain reasons which are partially apparent, the rate of social disorganization and personal demoralization of that group of America was frightfully fast. And it appears in general that the more rapidly people change their habits in a new habitat, the more disorganization ensues.
With reference to the study I have projected, I should proceed from the standpoint of deviate behavior very largely, but also from the standpoint of the total cultural situation, and I am interested in informing myself, as far as possible, as to the records of behavior in existence in the psychopathic hospitals, in penitentiaries, and in the child study centers, with reference to setting up certain parallel procedures abroad, the object being to see the extent of the deviations of normal behavior and abnormal behavior in different cultures, and with a view also to finding hypotheses, on the assumption that these comparisons of the larger groups could be correlated with the other work that is going on.
I may say that I selected the Scandinavian countries because the materials there are rather rich in some lines already. The personnel is adequate, is competent, cooperation would be good; they have a high incidence of insanity and other peculiarities, but they are not a rapidly changing people. It will thus be possible to use the Scandinavian group as a control in the study of behavior problems as they appear in American life, and I have also in mind the advantage of comparing at the same time a Mediterranean group differing in behavior characteristics from the Scandinavian and American groups.